Case Study: Ad Agency Tests Cloud Gaming

Preston Kelly is the rare full-service agency without the silo mentality and profit-centered motives that tear down an iconic brand story. Its in-house team focuses on disciplines such as advertising, brand strategy, design, direct, interactive, guerilla/street marketing and media connections planning. Based on leadership and agency culture, Preston Kelly was named one of the Best Places to Work in 2009 by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.

Challenge. Preston Kelly annually hosts an online version of the popular holiday gift exchange game dubbed White Elephant. Players in the game of strategy, luck and speed log in to steal one of three dozen gifts. Throughout the course of five days, gifts are virtually stolen and restolen until the clock strikes noon on Friday. At that time, anyone with a gift in their virtual possession can retrieve it from Preston Kellys Minneapolis office. Those who do not win big-ticket items such as a Flipcam, Twins tickets or $50 gift cards are given canned goods, which instantly turn into a cash donation to feed those in need during the holiday season.

The first year, the game was hosted on one dedicated server and firewall. It was such a huge success among Preston Kellys clients and contacts that its hosting environment couldnt handle the unexpectedly high amount of traffic. During the last 20 minutes of the game, the site was practically unreachable due to the high number of visitors vying for their final chance at a gift. Players were virtually locked out of the game unable to even attempt to steal anothers gift. The dedicated environment simply wasnt scalable enough to handle the dramatic spike in traffic.

Another challenge was that the hosting environment required Preston Kelly to allot enough capital expenditure to cover the setup fees and monthly cost of the environment under a contract, even though it was only to be used for a few weeks. To ensure that peak traffic times could be handled, they had to estimate how many visitors would be on the site during the final moments of the game as well as pay for the maximum load even though traffic typically wasnt near the peak level. Estimating the maximum amount of traffic was difficult, which was made clear by the fact that the server wasnt capable of handling the surge of traffic.

Solution. Even with the challenges during the end of the White Elephant game, there was demand for Preston Kelly to host the competition again the next year. The agency approached ReliaCloud for an affordable solution that would scale with their changing needs. With little budget for hosting the holiday game, they were attracted to ReliaClouds pay-as-you-grow cloud servers. With cloud servers, payment is utility-based, meaning users only pay for what they actually use. Cloud servers do not require any setup fees and are able to be turned off at any time.

Preston Kelly deployed four load balanced Windows servers running Microsoft .NET with a backend Microsoft SQL database. Knowing it had the ability to add additional servers within minutes as needed based on the popularity of the game, Preston Kelly initially started with five servers.

To ensure the site could handle the traffic, ReliaCloud partnered with an external load testing service. This service was able to mimic the increased load Preston Kelly would experience during the heaviest traffic periods of the game, thus ensuring the ReliaCloud solution would meet and exceed the traffic demands of the game.
Results. The Preston Kelly White Elephant online game had more than 400 participants in its second year. Players in the game logged in to steal gifts more than 3,000 times. The game peaked at more than 65 steals per minute, with no lag time for anyone.

The agency was pleased with the results of ReliaCloud servers. The scalability of cloud servers allowed Preston Kelly to pay only for what it used, hour by hour. There were no contracts, no upfront costs and no need to pay consistently for the maximum capacity that would be used. Preston Kelly reported no failed steal attempts, time outs or database deadlocks during the game.

We were delighted that the game functioned at 100 percent even during the busiest parts, said Melody Lentsch, director of interactive at Preston Kelly. Weve already decided upon using ReliaCloud for future projects.

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